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September 16th, 2009
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Poker Lesson: A Big Hand Early in a Tournament
Author: Erick Lindgren
In the late stages of a tournament, big pairs are generally pretty easy to play. When you have 20, 30 or 40 big blinds in your stack, and you find a pair of Queens or Kings, you usually just want to play aggressively, force a fold, or play a big all-in pot and hope things work out in the end.
But early on in a tournament, when the stacks can be very deep relative to the blinds, I don’t think it’s always a great idea to play big pairs quite as aggressively. A hand I played this year at the WSOP Main Event demonstrates the point pretty well.
At the start of the hand, the blinds were 100/200 and most of the stacks at the table were right around the starting amount of 20,000 chips. One player raised and another called from late position. I looked down and saw two Queens.
The instinct for many in this situation is to re-raise. But I didn’t like that option. What would happen if one of the other players in the hand re-popped me? I’d hate to fold the Queens, but I wasn’t ready to risk going broke with Queens so early in the tournament.
My re-raise could have also prompted one or both players to just call. In that case, I would have been playing out of position without having a great idea of what my opponents held. After the calls, the pot would be quite large. It could have cost me most or even all of my stack before I figured out whether I was ahead or behind.
I decided to play a smaller pot and put fewer of my chips at risk, so I just called.
The flop came Jack-high. I checked, the original raiser bet and it was folded to me. I called – again trying to keep the pot relatively small. The turn was a blank, and I checked. My opponent checked behind. This check made me pretty confident that I was ahead. When the river paired the board, I was happy to put out a value bet, hoping that I could get paid off by, perhaps, a medium pocket pair.
As it turned out, my opponent didn’t have enough to call me and I took down the pot right there.
All-in-all, I was happy with the way I played the hand. I put myself in a position to win a moderate sized pot without incurring any risk of going broke. Next time you see a big pair early in a tournament, consider trying to control the size of the pot rather than playing as aggressively as you can.
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